Last week, Vann's, the Missoula-based electronics and appliance retailer of 50 years that filed for bankruptcy protection in August, announced that the company can't be saved. Vann's will close its five remaining stores around the state, lay off some 150 employees and liquidate its $17.6 million in assets in order to pay off its creditors.
One of those assets, bankruptcy documents show, is a home site at the Rock Creek Cattle Company, a 30,000-acre luxury vacation community with a Tom Doak-designed golf course northwest of Deer Lodge.
How is high-end real estate relevant to selling stereos and washers and dryers?
"Well, honestly, it isn't," says Jerry McConnell, a professional business restructuring consultant who took over as Vann's CEO in June. "It was a stupid move on the part of management that went out there and built a house and bought two lots. It's about a half a dozen of those kinds of decisions that really, combined with a bad economy, got us into the hole that we're in right now."
McConnell says the Rock Creek Cattle Company property, assigned a value of $275,000 in Vann's Chapter 11 bankruptcy filing, was used for the occasional Vann's board meeting. He says no one lived in it. George Manlove and Paul Nisbet, the company's former CEO and CFO, respectively, used to be (if they aren't still) Rock Creek Cattle Company members, according to a club blog post written in March 2010.
McConnell says the two properties (one of which Vann's has apparently since sold) were part of Vann's Homes, LLC, one of Manlove's imprudent side ventures. "He had the idea that he was going to form a homebuilding company that would build exclusive homes with very, very expensive kitchens in them," McConnell says.
It didn't work. Nor did BigSkyCountry.com, an online outdoor clothing retailer Vann's launched in March 2011, and The ON Store, a pseudo Apple Store that opened in Missoula's Southgate Mall in late 2010. McConnell says both are "still hemorrhaging a lot of red ink." McConnell adds BigSkyCountry.com could be sold this week.
Manlove couldn't be reached for comment.
McConnell says the Rock Creek Cattle Company lot will be "one of the things the creditors will be fighting over here before long."